It’s not good form to whine about umpires. There will be bad calls on both sides (though far more good than bad) and over a long season it will even out. So despite the hilarious title of this post, what I’m about to write isn’t intended as umpire criticism.
With the preamble out of the way, the small portion of the season we’ve experienced so far has highlighted how the Red Sox will sink or swim on the strength of their starting pitching staff. This is no great revelation. Based on past performance we have a good idea this iteration of the Red Sox will hit and hit well. Any mystery comes the starting rotation. The cavalcade of questions: Is the Josh Beckett of the last two starts for real? Is Clay Buchholz really this bad? Are Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey the nosy neighbor and the wisecracking butler characters in a new NBC sitcom starring John Wasdin?
For the record I hope the answers are yes, no, and if so kill me. I bring this all up because last night’s effort by Clay Buchholz did not rate highly on the Promise-o-Meter (all meters must have O’s in their names; it’s required by the United American Meter Association of America). In a performance straight from the Daisuke Matsuzaka School of Pitching Economy, Buchholz threw 102 pitches over 5.1 innings, striking out two while walking four. The end result was effective if not encouraging (1 run allowed; special thanks to Daniel Bard). However, I believe there to be some extenuating circumstances. Namely, home plate umpire Mike DiMuro’s strikezone. The below strikezone plot shows Clay Buchholz’s pitches last night:
By my count, Buchholz was the recipient of two strike calls outside the zone. He was also on the receiving end of fourteen pitches that appear to be in the strikezone but which were called balls. I should stress that the strikezone plot above is not perfect in that while the width of the plate is static, players are different heights and therefore the zone fluctuates vertically depending on the batter. Still, that appears to be a remarkable number of pitches called balls which Pitch f/x says are strikes.
For the game, Buchholz threw 59 of his 102 pitches for strikes, a mediocre 57% strike rate. If you give him half the the fourteen pitches mentioned above, that rate jumps to a more palatable 65% and my guess is the strikeouts make a small climb while the walks slightly shrink.
None of this is intended to say Buchholz pitched well or the home plate umpire is terrible or to make any other such statement. The strikezone plot tells the story of an umpire not calling low strikes, which is something Buchholz should have realized and adjusted to after a certain point. However, for a pitcher who lives down in the zone as much as Buchholz, not getting those calls, and not getting that many of them, certainly puts a crimp in his effectiveness. Maybe Buchholz wasn’t quite as bad on Wednesday as the numbers suggest.